No. 2 Connecticut 79, No. 13 Notre Dame 76
Notre Dame's scouting report on Kelly Faris will be a little different next time around.
Other teams, too.
Faris scored a career-high 20 points, including a layup with 14 seconds left that allowed No. 2 Connecticut to escape with a 79-76 victory over No. 13 Notre Dame on Saturday. Maya Moore added 31 points, eight rebounds and two blocks for the Huskies (14-1, 4-0 Big East), whose victory was only their second by single digits this season.
''Probably the biggest key to how this team goes down the road is going to be how Kelly plays,'' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ''When she's in a groove like she was today, that kid is really, really good. I wouldn't trade her for anybody, anyone in the league.''
Skylar Diggins missed two shots in the last five seconds for the Irish, including a last-ditch 3 at the buzzer that sailed way beyond the basket. The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for the Irish (13-4, 2-1), whose only losses this year have been against ranked teams, and disappointed the 9,149 fans who came out despite a snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow on South Bend.
''We realized we can stick with the best team in nation after playing Baylor and UConn,'' Diggins said. ''I'm excited about the future of this team. We'll see UConn again.''
And they'll be a lot more wary of Faris next time around.
Connecticut's Division I-record 90-game winning streak came to an end at Stanford last week, and the Huskies have an air of vulnerability they haven't had in recent years. All-everything Tina Charles is gone - ''I think most of the Big East coaches wanted to attend the graduation ceremony,'' Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. ''We were all pretty happy she was gone.'' - and the Huskies are starting two freshman with another providing key minutes off the bench.
The Huskies picked up four fouls in the first two minutes of the game - including two on Tiffany Hayes - and never seemed in sync. But Faris kept UConn close, making a big layup and a 3 to tie the game midway through the second half after Notre Dame had matched its largest lead of the game at 7.
Faris was 2 of 3 from 3-point range, and also made all 10 of her free throws.
''That wasn't on the scouting report,'' McGraw said, rattling off Faris' pre-game percentages from beyond the arc (25) and free throw line (73). ''She played better than her average today.''
Moore made back-to-back 3s to put UConn in front 67-64 with 7:29 to play. But the Huskies would go almost four minutes without scoring, and Natalie Novosel continued her impressive second half by capping an 8-0 run with a layup to give the Irish a 72-67 lead with 4:24 left.
The Huskies wouldn't lead again until Moore shook off a bump from Devereaux Peters and drilled a pull-up jumper with 50 seconds left.
''You just play. You make plays,'' Moore said. ''I thought we did a really good job of staying together and believing in each other the last three, four minutes of the game. We never stopped believing we could win.''
Stefanie Dolson blocked one Novosel effort with 34 seconds left, but the gritty Irish guard put up another shot as she fell to the floor and it went in, giving Notre Dame a 76-75 lead with 30 seconds left. But Faris, who hadn't had a field goal in more than 10 minutes, made the critical layup.
After Diggins missed a short jumper, Dolson got the rebound and was fouled by Peters. The freshman, who's made all but two free throws this year, made both.
''They'd never won a big road game. Until you do it, you're not sure whether you can or not,'' Auriemma said. ''Of course there's going to be a little bit of a doubt, and they're going to have to carve this out and create the moment. This isn't the team that won 78 in a row. This is a team that's won 14 games.
''So they took a big step forward today in winning a big game on the road against a Notre Dame team that outplayed us in I'll bet you every category.''
The loss spoiled an outstanding effort by Novosel, who scored Notre Dame's last six points and all but two of her 16 in the second half. Diggins also had 16 and Peters had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but she was held to just four points and three boards in the second half.
''We talked about it after the game, and those last few minutes is how we are supposed to play. That was Connecticut basketball,'' Faris said. ''It was good for us to see that we have it in us and pull out the game like that. But we have to play like that the entire game.''